A Riverside office building that houses University of California human resources offices was picketed Friday, Dec. 2, and occupied by striking graduate student workers — some of whom were set to camp inside into the weekend.
Seven employees went inside the building, called the UC Path Center, in the morning and said they were prepared to stay there all day — past the 5 p.m. closing time, union officials said. As the day ended, striking students learned they could stay in the building overnight and through the weekend, which about 17 decided to do, said Leah Washburne, a strike captain and UC Riverside student worker.
Friday began with about 40 workers with signs demonstrating outside the building during the third week of their strike as sheriff’s deputies stood watch.
“We have made serious attempts to reach fair agreements with UC, yet after three weeks, Graduate Workers still have not received a proposal on wages that adequately addresses our economic precarity,” Heeba Hartit, a UC Riverside teaching assistant said in a union news release. “We are sending them a wake-up call in hopes that we can return to our research and teaching with dignified working conditions.”
Other strike actions occurred across Southern California.
At UCLA, striking students marched with picket signs Friday afternoon to visit faculty members and “deliver them lumps of coal,” according to a tweet from the UC Student-Workers Union. One protester held a sign reading, “We need, like, more money and stuff.”
The Los Angeles Tenants Union was among dozens protesters at UCLA, bundled up against the rain, chanting “Shut it down!” Demanding a better deal for academic workers, the group stands with UC strikers, according to a tweet from the LA Tenants Union.
Also, more than 1,000 faculty members from the 10 UC campuses signed a letter calling on state leaders to resolve the strike, a news release states.
“Graduate student workers are the lifeblood of the University of California campuses, and we need to pay them a dignified wage and fair benefits,” Graeme Blair, one of the letter’s authors and an associate professor of political science at UCLA said in the release. “If we want California’s flagship university system to maintain its ranking as the #1 public university in the world, we need to invest in the graduate students that make it possible.”
At UC Irvine, more than 200 workers took over a student dining hall area called the Anteatery on Thursday, Dec. 1.
“We held a peaceful sitting outside and within the cafeteria as well,” said Mia Villegas, a UC Irvine academic researcher who is on the bargaining team for the United Auto Workers, Local 5810.
The UC-wide strike began Nov. 14, when academic workers across the UC system walked out amid calls for raises to keep up with climbing housing costs. Those on strike include teaching assistants, researchers and other university employees and are represented by the United Auto Workers.
A tentative deal was reached Tuesday, Nov. 29, between UC officials and postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers. But the workers said they would remain on strike in solidarity with the thousands of graduate student workers at all 10 of the university system’s campuses who have not yet agreed to terms with UC officials.
In addition to pay hikes of up to 29%, Tuesday’s agreement would provide increased family leave, childcare subsidies and lengthened appointments to ensure job security, according to a statement from United Auto Workers Local 5810. The pact must be ratified in a vote by members.
On Friday, UC spokesperson Ryan King wrote in an email that “while the university supports the rights of those who are lawfully striking, we also believe that every member of our community should act in a way that respects the ability of others to pursue their work at UC Path and all of our locations.”
The UC Path Center in Riverside is headquarters for the UC system’s Human Resources department. It’s located away from the UCR campus on Meridian Parkway, off the 215 Freeway. The building, owned by UC, also houses systemwide payroll, benefits, human resources, and academic personnel services, UCR spokesperson John Warren said in an email.
On Friday morning, those marching at the Riverside building — picket signs in hand — chanted “What do we want?” The response was “fair contracts.”
Brigid Boll, a UCR graduate student and teaching assistant, said she was inside the building with six other striking employees.
They are prepared to stay inside the building, accessible only to badged employees, until their demands are met, Boll said.
“We’ve been on strike for three weeks now and we’ve seen no movement from the UC to come closer to our contract demands,” Boll said via cell phone. “We’re here for the long haul.”
“Finals start next week … we’re worried about our undergrads,” Boll said.
Boll, who works with 90 students per quarter, said her students support the union’s actions. She criticized UC leadership.
“They don’t care about UC workers, but they don’t seem to care about students that will be impacted by grades,” she said.
The students occupying the building have packed enough food for a few days, she said. They are making TikTok videos and posting to Instagram as they wait.
Leslie Fernandez, a strike captain and UCR student worker, said that nine months of negotiations have led to the strike.
A teaching fellow, Fernandez said he leads writing classes of 23 students and earns $24,000 over 9 months.
That covers rent, but Fernandez said he has no savings.
“I’ve had to learn how to be frugal as a graduate student.”
Also on Friday, the UCLA Academic Senate issued guidelines for professors on grades in response to the strike.
Instructors cannot cancel previously announced final exams or fundamentally change the method of final assessment.
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They may change the form and content because of the circumstances, for example by shortening final exams, offering them remotely or replacing an in-class timed exam with a take-home timed exam.
The senate also requested an extension for grade submissions. No answer has been given.
According to a Thursday tweet, up to 50 protesters crowded a corridor at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center, where they held signs saying “unfair labor practice” and chanted “shut it down” if their demands are not met.
Meanwhile, without teaching assistants, some classes are being canceled.
Union officials heard that more than 1,000 classes have been cancelled across UC and that some grades have been withheld, Villegas said. UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich could not confirm how many classes have been cancelled at the university.
On Friday, a UCI dean wrote a letter to students about fall-quarter grades, saying that “many instructors will need additional time to finish grading.” The main deadline for submitting grades remains Dec. 16, but the deadline for late grades has been extended until Jan. 19, wrote Michael Dennin, UCI’s undergraduate education dean.
Staff Writers Mike Sprague, Roxana Kopetman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.